By now everyone knows The Secret Circle shares a lot in common with The Vampire Diaries: Network, showrunner, source material authoress, witchcraft, cinematic style, tone, and sensibility. Right now the comparison—whether fair or not—both hurts and helps The Secret Circle, as The Vampire Diaries has become a mostly incredible teen soap powerhouse over the last two seasons due to its exhausting story turnover rate. But after seeing Thursday's premiere, The Secret Circle has at least one advantage over The Vampire Diaries: Its pilot episode was far better than The Vampire Diaries' was. Don't be mad, TVD fans, you know it's true.
In what's known as a premise pilot, the premiere of The Secret Circle functioned more as an introduction to the characters and their relationships—and so didn't go about setting forth any elaborate plotlines. But here's the gist: The town of Chance Harbor, Washington, is home to six ancient witch families, and each generation spawns a secret circle. In this case, the current circle is made up of high school students, but their parents comprised the previous circle.
About fifteen years ago, something terrible happened to those parents, and one member of each married couple was killed (so now all the current kids have one parent apiece). Additionally, one of those six parents escaped the town to raise her daughter outside of the magic lifestyle, which drastically reduced the powers of the remaining five. And that's where the pilot episode begins: With the retribution-tinged murder of that former witch and the forced relocation of her daughter back to Chance Harbor, where the six families are once again united.
CASSIE (Britt Robertson)
Our heroine arrives in town at the height of her shock and grief over her dead mother, but she's still amazingly cool and low-key about everything. Admittedly, the most laughable aspect of The Secret Circle is the idea that Cassie is somehow reluctant to accept that she has magical powers. What teenager ON EARTH wouldn't be completely stoked to find out she's a full-blooded witch? Whatever, The Secret Circle, I'll play along.
ADAM (Thomas Dekker)
Clearly intended to be the male heartthrob/romantic lead, Adam's basically just a pair of eyelashes in a hoodie. We don't know a ton about him other than he works at the Boat House (this show's version of Mystic Grill) and he has to look after his alcoholic father. He and Cassie had chemistry right off the bat, so the fact that he's dating another member of the circle promises to be a major point of conflict later on.
DIANA (Shelley Hennig)
The popular nice girl, Diana was one of the first to reach out to Cassie in a fairly genuine way. However, two complications here: She's dating Adam, plus her father is the EVIL WARLOCK who killed Cassie's mom. What's interesting about this show, however, is that the kids don't seem to have the same agendas as their parents, so it looks like we'll be seeing tons of intra-family conflict as the series goes on. A scene toward the end of the episode saw Diana genuinely tear-up when Cassie herself got emotional. It was a really nice moment and it suggested Diana really is as nice as she seems. OR maybe it's an act? Either way, well played.
FAYE (Phoebe Tonkin)
This lady is by far the best character on The Secret Circle. Walking a fine line between mean girl and loose cannon, Faye is both hilarious and menacing without ever being a full-on villain. She definitely undermined Cassie at first, but later proved that she seems to actually care about her friends and the effect her reckless behavior can have on them. And the actress? We're talking future superstar here. She's that good.
MELISSA (Jessica Parker Kennedy)
For now Melissa's more like a Marcie figure to Fay's Peppermint Patty, but she also tries to keep Faye in check whenever possible. Also, much like Cassie she sort of looks like a gelfling from Dark Crystal.
NICK (Louis Hunter)
Haha this guy. He's so '90s! He's the other male witch in the circle but his main contribution to this episode was simply living next door to Cassie and standing in the window all shirtless and cheesecakey. But seriously, doesn't he look like an extra from Point Break?
One of the most intriguing aspects of The Secret Circle is its inclusion of actual parents. And not just as authority figures who punish the main characters for taking drugs or getting bad grades. These parents are actively involved in the central plot and promise to have a profound effect on their children's storylines.
ETHAN — ADAM'S DAD (Adam Harrington)
All we know about Ethan is that he's the proprietor of local hangout The Boat House, but he's largely considered a drunk by the townsfolk. He seems like a good guy, but he creepily told Cassie that he'd been in love with her mother and that both of their families are destined to be together eventually. Yikes! (It's mentioned more than once that Cassie's now-deceased biological father was sort of evil, but it's unclear how that will factor in later).
DAWN — FAYE'S MOM (Natasha Henstridge)
As principal of Chance Harbor High School, Dawn's is one of the first people Cassie met on her first day in school. She comes off as a really nice woman who used to be personal friends with Cassie's mom. The later reveal that Faye is her daughter at first seemed like a nice counterbalance, like sometimes the apple DOES fall far from the tree. However, in the closing minutes of the episode we learned that Dawn is definitely on the side of evil, and that maybe Faye is the more decent of the pair.
CHARLES — DIANA'S DAD (Gale Harold)
As the murderer of Cassie's mom and seemingly the most powerful of all the witches, Charles is the most obvious villain of Chance Harbor. Power hungry and conniving, he actually bullies the other parents. While Dawn seems to be in on whatever scheme he's got going, it's definitely clear that he's the town's Darth Vader, which is in huge contrast to how nice his daughter Diana seems.
AMELIA — CASSIE'S MOM (Emily Holmes)
Amelia's nightmarish murder in the opening scene set the entire show in motion, but it seems likely her presence will continue to loom over the Chance Harbor. What caused her to leave town in the first place? What was the deal with her back-in-the-day love triangle? What other notes, clues, and advice did she leave for her daughter that we'll then hear in voiceover? Who knows!
JANE — CASSIE'S GRANDMOTHER (Ashley Crow)
Though she may look only fortysomething, on TV that's grandmother-age! Jane is Cassies's grandmother and now her legal guardian, and you can tell just by looking at her that she is definitely a witch. However, that means she's a generation removed even from Cassie's mom's circle, so we'll probably learn much more about her circle as well. So many circles, you guys! Although, I'm not going to lie, I'm sort of confused about the genealogy at play. There are six families, yet only six members in each circle? How much inbreeding are we talking about here?
A show about witches is only as good as the mayhem-based magic therein. Unfortunately much of the magic we saw in the premiere episode falls in line with what we've already seen on The Vampire Diaries—mostly just levitating junk and setting cars on fire. You know, Bonnie's specialties. However, it's clear that these powers are just the starting point, because now that Cassie has completed her circle, everyone in it will grow increasingly powerful.
It's worth noting that one major improvement over The Vampire Diaries' witches is that these witches don't seem to chant. It's more a matter of, like, wishing really hard. This is fine by me, the chanting has always been the most awkward part of witchcraft. The second major improvement? Higher self-esteem.
Anyway, here's a quick review of the magic that went down in the first episode:
1. Tire poppin':
2. Spontaneous combustion murder:
3. Curtain opening:
4. Padlock opening:
5. Locking cars and setting them on fire:
6. Putting out car fires:
7. Levitating water drops in romantic ways:
8. Turning off strands of Christmas lights on boats:
9. Making it rain super hard:
10. Making it stop raining:
11. Filling up a man's lungs with water in order to make a point:
12. Making glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars move:
There you have it. Not a bad start! So far The Secret Circle has more than a kernel's worth of intriguing plotlines, but its strongest selling point is its roster of appealing, intriguing characters. If this is what all teen dramas aspire to be, keep 'em coming, The CW!
... What did you think of the premiere?
... Which characters are not what they seem?
... Faye: Love her or hate her?
... Do you think Melissa and Nick have weird parents too?